As we all know from festive favourite Home Alone, there’s nothing to put you in the Christmas spirit quite like a bit of breaking and entering. “Santa” – Christmas is Coming is a welcome entry into the holiday home invasion genre from Edinburgh-based Lazy Monday Games, the team behind the creepy sunken ship exploration game Reveal the Deep.
Players take control of Santa and undertake what developers and brothers Mitchell and Andrew call “a reverse heist”, which basically involves barging into an unsuspecting family’s home and lobbing presents at Christmas trees from across the room. The aim is to safely deliver the goods without getting caught, which is no mean feat. There’s a guard dog and several restless children to watch out for, meaning you’ll need to plan your route carefully. Then there’s the fact the house is an obstacle course of furniture, potted plants and other knick knacks, all of which will come crashing down at the slightest touch. Cause too much commotion and you’ll alert the adults of the house, at which point the jig is up – the authorities are called and you’ve got 20 seconds to skedaddle before “Santa” (“or, as someone who definitely looks really quite a lot like santa”, according to Mitchell) gets nicked.
Unlike the Reveal the Deep, which is a carefully-honed, well-received commercial work you can purchase now on Steam or itch.io, “Santa” – Christmas is Coming is a daft and not all together finished experiment made for a game jam run by popular British YouTube channel. As the team freely admit, it’s a little rough around the edges – open the setting’s screen and you’ll be greeted by the message “We overestimated our abilities for the Jingle Jam. At least you can change the resolution.”
Nonetheless, it’s a funny and charming game that’s well worth 15 minutes of your time. The sprite work and animation are full of character and the, shall we say, “demanding” collision detection makes for some zany slapstick chaos. It’s also nice to have another Christmas themed game to add to the relatively small canon – especially one that’s locally made. We spoke to Mitchell from Lazy Monday Games to find out how it came to be and what he learned from the project:
“We were already working on a different project at the time, but we agreed if we had an idea we liked for the theme we’d give it a go. In hindsight, that was basically a given since we always end up excited about an idea if we talk about it for a few minutes.”
“The jam’s theme was “Giving”. We were looking to be faithful to that, but in an unexpected way. “Giving” in itself does not imply that either the receiver is expecting something, or even that the law allows for it. So from there, the idea was a reverse heist, where you play as Santa.”
“Santa” – Christmas is Coming was actually developed at the end of last year, meaning Mitchell’s has had a little time to reflect on how the project went.
“I’m really pleased with the way it looks. My brother did a great job with the art in such a short time… I also think the idea itself really has legs, the concept of an unwieldy character trying to quietly spread Christmas cheer is pretty funny in itself.”
The game suffers from the mistake we always make and never seem to learn, which is an overly ambitious scope. We could have had just one floor, and made the layout for the reduced area a little more carefully… Although the sense of scale is neat, the price you pay in polish (and sanity) for all that extra work is quite steep, especially for a short game jam.
Mitchell also explained how watching someone stream the game sparked ideas about potential new mechanics and reinforced the value of playtesting.
“There’s a bit in the stream of the submissions where they try to appease one of the children they’ve been spotted by, by throwing presents at them. If I’d taken the time to code that interaction, it would have really paid off. I suppose it’s obvious, but people really love it when games do what they expect. (Instead, the child was buried under a pile of presents but didn’t even open them.)
Look to the future now…
As a stealth game with patrolling guards and vision cones, there’s no mistaking that “Santa” – Christmas is Coming takes cues from Metal Gear – and that’s before you hear the trademark alarm sound effect when you get spotted. While Mitchell is a fan of the classic series, his pick for number one sneak-em-up goes to Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine, a multiplayer heist game that’s very much of the traditional stealing variety.
For now, Lazy Monday is working on Golf Gang, a game that to our knowledge involves neither stealing nor giving but does include katana-wielding golf balls. You can follow its development and keep up with everything Lazy Monday are up to by following them on Twitter, and you can visit their itch.io page to play “Santa” – Christmas is Coming and Reveal the Deep.